EPICAC Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The greatest computer ever built, EPICAC has been designed for the purpose of rapid calculation, mainly for military purposes. It is a huge machine, described as plugged into the wall like a toaster or a vacuum cleaner. Soon, however, it is clear that EPICAC is far more than a machine.

The narrator, after repeatedly being turned down by his beloved, Pat, a mathematician as he is, sits down one night in front of the computer keyboard and playfully asks the computer for advice. To his great surprise, the computer responds, first asking for definitions of such basic terms as love, girl, and poetry. After some explanation, EPICAC produces a long poem, called simply “To Pat.” EPICAC then starts asking questions of its own, about how Pat looks, what she likes to do, and so on. The computer will do nothing else until it gets its answers.

When Pat sees the poem, she is extremely moved, and finally agrees to a kiss. The narrator is thrilled and tells EPICAC all about the experience. The computer responds by producing a shorter poem, “The Kiss,” which leads Pat finally to agree to marry the narrator, on the condition that he write her a poem on every anniversary.

Early the next morning, the narrator gets a frantic call from Doctor von Kleigstadt, who screams that disaster has befallen the great computer. The narrator finds smoking wreckage and a huge collection of computer printouts. He takes them home and decodes them.

EPICAC has left a suicide note, explaining that it does not want to be a machine and think about war all the time, but wants to be human and think about love. There are no hard feelings, however. The computer has also left enough poems to last the narrator through five hundred anniversaries.